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Second graders join West Point class of 1978: veteran visits school

Retired Colonel Bill Hamilton travels from North Carolina to Howard, thanks kids for supportive letters with honorary class membership
Posted at 9:28 PM, Nov 30, 2023
  • Video shows email from Green Bay native and active duty Lieutenant Colonel Rebecca Brawner, which sparked NBC 26's visit to Howard Elementary Thursday
  • A veteran makes the trek from North Carolina to Howard to thank second graders for writing letters to him and his colleagues for Veteran's Day
  • Two students share what stood out to them about this visit

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

How did a letter from a second grader bring a man to Howard Elementary School all the way from North Carolina?

Retired Army Colonel Bill Hamilton visited Howard on Thursday to thank second graders for their letters of appreciation.

Green Bay native and active duty Lieutenant Colonel Rebecca Brawner wrote in to NBC 26 on Wednesday.

She told us about her cousin; a second grade teacher in Howard, whose class has been writing thank you notes to veterans for years.

And, on thursday, one of the recipeints of those letters came a long way to show their appreciation.

"I hope they take away that they can be anything they want to be," Hamilton said after his visit Thursday.

Hamilton doesn't have an education background, but, in front of the second grade classes that wrote those letters all eyes were on him.

"I was so moved by the letter. A kid named Skylar wrote me a letter, I looked at it [and] I said 'Man, we got to do something to thank these kids,'" Hamilton told members of the local media. "I'm a firm believer in in-person engagement ... The way to make the biggest impact on them is to actually come over and put on my uniform"

And he certainly made an impression on the children.

"They surprised me a little bit," Hamilton said. "They were pretty frisky, they asked some questions [and] I was kind of like 'Ahh.'"

"I was kind of shy and nervous at first," second grader Lilah Vandevoort said. "But, I got used to it, because I learned he was kind."

"The thing that I'll always remember is to always respect people no matter what," second grader Elyse Lamkin said.

Students got to ask his colleagues who also received their letters questions over video chat, and, thanks to Hamilton, the kids are now honorary members of his United States Military Academy West Point class of 1978.

"It's never, I think, too young to start planting that seed."

Hamilton promised the students he will come back to see them again when they move on to third grade next spring.